the japanese, a stalwart people

A bowl of miso soup

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My husband and I had dinner at Tokyo, a small Japanese restaurant. Some might call it a “hole in the wall.” Regular diners, like ourselves, use the phrase lovingly. In other words the restaurant’s appearance is nothing spectacular, but its food is “to die for,” and its prices are fair. My combination dinner of miso soup, salad with Japanese dressing, teriyaki salmon, California roll, brown rice and a peeled orange that was sweet and juicy, “hit the spot.” I love Japanese food, at least the westernized version of the more traditional fare.

California roll served in Shanghai, China. Pre...

Image via Wikipedia

During dinner my husband asked if I’d thought about the next topic for my blog. I said “Yes, that I had.” The recent Tsunami in Japan had me thinking about its people. While I don’t know anyone who lives there, I’m well acquainted with their culture. Hawaii is a melting pot of ethnicities, Japanese being one of them. Historically they were enlisted to work the plantations, replacing the first wave of immigrants, the Chinese, who improved their lot, moving from laborers to small business owners.

Growing up among the Japanese in Maui, I saw them as a quiet, soft-spoken, hard-working people. Family and honor were important in their culture. They were leaders, for sure, but they led by example. Children knew what was expected of them, because they did as their parents did. And the adults seemed to do whatever was necessary to provide for themselves and their families, by simply doing. They grew their own produce, they fished, they opened small mom and pop grocery stores. From what I observed, the Japanese seemed a very self-sufficient people. Moreover, I never heard them complain. It seemed they felt anything was possible, if they just worked hard enough.

When learning of the devastating losses it has suffered in the wake of the Tsunami, I could only think that Japan will re-emerge strong once again, like the mythological phoenix which arose from its own ashes. It is not a nation that cries out in desperation. Instead its people will put their noses to the proverbial grindstone, and rebuild their country from the ground up, making it even better than before. If God ever imbued a people with the gift of everlasting hope, in my opinion it would have to be the Japanese.

for a country of hard-working people…hugs and prayers…hugmamma.

people make the place, issaquah’s gilman village

A recent visit to Issaquah‘s Gilman Village reminded me why it’s a special place to spend a few hours. It’s always great to see my hair stylist, Zorianna. She gives me a chic cut that resembles a “Brazilian Blowout.” And I don’t pay the huge bucks larger salons charge. A mom like me, we commiserate on women’s issues, parenting, the state of the economy, the dreary weather. Zorianna’s manner is easy, befitting the quiet ambiance of her surroundings. Occupying space within the Pelage Spa, the salon sits off to one side. 

I can’t say enough nice things about someone who helps me look my very best, with the added bonus that I feel like I’m sitting comfortably in my own home the entire time.

Thanks, Zorianna……………….. for being my newest BFF………………………………………………………

A newcomer to Gilman Village is a haven for writers, wannabees like yours truly and professionals like Pam Binder, President of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. After leaving Zorianna’s salon, I walked past PNWA’s storefront, slowing down to peer in the windows. A membership drive was underway. Joining meant “what?,” I thought to myself. Just as I’d done once before, I almost continued on my way. But the remnants of my New York “chutzpah” pushed me through the front door. As I’ve said to my daughter time and again, “All you can do is ask; all they can do is say ‘no.’ ” 

Armed with the knowledge that I could turn on my heel if I met with elitist resistance to my inquiries, I confidently greeted Pam. She rose from where she was seated behind her desk, walking forward, hand extended welcoming me, a warm smile brightening her face. I felt like Renee Zellweger‘s character in the film, “Jerry Maguire,” when she told him (Tom Cruise) “You had me at hello.”

Pam didn’t ask me to join PNWA; I told her I’d join. Probably surprised that she didn’t have to hit me with a hard sales pitch, she fumbled for a membership form. Throughout our conversation, we laughed easily, and spoke like old friends. I mentioned that she reminded me of Kristina, my exercise instructor and good friend. The likeness in general appearance and mannerisms, sold me on putting some roots down with other writers. It also helped that Pam assured me I was a writer because I wrote. She didn’t turn up her nose when I confessed that I blogged. I even went so far as to offer to volunteer for future events.

So if I do write a book, it will be owing in part to Pam Binder’s graciously making me feel that becoming an author is not so far-fetched. Her credentials only enhance my belief in the possibility. Pam is a board member for the Writer’s Program at the University of Washington, and an instructor in the university’s Popular Fiction extension program.

Thanks, Pam………………. for making me feel so welcome………………………………………………………

One of my favorite eateries in Gilman Village has always been The Boarding House Restaurant. Another cafe that served as a popular dining destination was Sweet Addition. It’s no longer in business, but was the talk of the town for a number of years. I worked there as a server when my daughter was still in middle school. That was close to 12 years ago. God, I feel old.

The Boarding House Restaurant never dwindled in its popularity, despite competition that came and went, some “stiff” like Sweet Addition. Offering a home style menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, The Boarding House Restaurant is consistent in serving up great food, warmly reminiscent of mom’s home cooking. Walking through the beautiful, stained-glass, front door is like stepping back in time. Cozily furnished with dark-wood dining tables and chairs, a couple of vintage church pews, and a large fireplace for ambiance, I feel as though I’ve been invited to share a family meal with friends. Lunching alone on the combination Boarding House salad and soup du jour, voices of others dining nearby, I settle in comfortably, enjoying my solitude, a good book my only companion.

Made-from-scratch desserts are what I’d expect at the conclusion of a home-cooked meal. The Boarding House Restaurant doesn’t disappoint. Homemade whipped cream heaped high atop a generous serving of apple crisp on a chilly, winter day, and strawberry shortcake that crumbles in my mouth as a summer breeze cools my cheek, is like heaven on earth for one who savors food as I do.

And the metaphorical icing on the cake, or the cherry on top a hot fudge sundae? Jene, the charming cashier and part-owner who takes my order, flashing a beautiful smile that warms my spirit, making me feel like I’ve come home.

Thanks, Jene……………….  for feeding my soul, as well as my tummy…………………………………

Dwellings are enhanced by those who occupy their spaces. Gilman Village is very fortunate to have some real gems among its offerings. And its patrons are indeed lucky to partake of them.

for zorianna, pam and jene…huge, heart-healthy hugs…hugmamma.

“big night,” small town bijou

I’m pretty sure that’s what movie houses were called back in the day, bijous. When my friend Sylvia mentioned that she and her husband had frequented the North Bend Theatre a few times and loved its charm, I knew I had to experience it for myself. So I made a date with them, for my husband and I to see the lone show featured tonight at 5 p.m., “The Little Fockers.”

I was somewhat surprised when Sylvia assured me that she and Jim were great fans of the “Focker” installments, and that they were excited to be able to see this, the most recent. I must confess to only seeing the first, and thought the humor was rather inane. I can take or leave Ben Stiller’s humor. So to think that friends in their 70s found the stories hilarious, was extremely surprising. Even my 24-year-old daughter, who dislikes the Focker family series, was taken aback. But we agreed that Sylvia and Jim are not your run-of-the-mill senior citizens. They’re pretty progressive, and very energetic. They could run circles around my family, to be sure.

Well neither the theatre nor the movie were disappointing. In fact, they were both downright enjoyable. The bijou is owned by a private family, probably as a pet project, a contribution to their community of North Bend. Bravo for them! It’s well maintained, inside and out. The lobby is tiny, probably full to capacity at 25-30 people, all standing elbow to elbow. High-schoolers staffed the mini-snack bar. Popcorn served up in good, old-fashioned brown paper bags, in several sizes. Jim and I threw caution to the wind, ordering a couple…with a few squirts of butter. Naughty, naughty! Tasted like the sort I got at the five-and-dime Kress Store, when I was a kid in Maui.

My husband and I wandered in to find our friends who’d preceded us to “save” seats. They needn’t have bothered, since the theatre was three-quarters empty. Even with that I almost burst into chuckles when I spotted Sylvia and Jim sitting in the next to the last row of seats. They were almost in the snack bar, literally! Then I remembered that he wore hearing aids, which might amplify the sounds beyond his comfort zone. Since the “Little Fockers” was not a movie I’d been dying to see, sitting… soooooooo… far back was no big deal. Nonetheless, I still smiled to myself.

Well surprise, surprise! I laughed through the entire film. Stiller and the actress who played his wife were not the objects of my hysteria, although he was very good. The supporting cast of A-list actors, Blythe Danner, Robert de Niro, Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, were absolutely great! Performing more light-hearted roles than usual, they were all wonderfully funny: de Niro as the fanatical, retired CIA father-in-law who’s out to make mincemeat of son-in-law Stiller, is paired with mild-mannered, Danner, who plays fantasy dress-up to add spark to their senior sex life, as Hoffman is off learning to dance flamenco in Seville, Spain, while wife Streisand stars on her own sex-advice talk show. Funny! Funny! Funny!

Once we collected ourselves, and braved the pelting rain outside, we headed for a bite to eat at the North Bend Bar and Grill, our favorite eatery in town. It was packed to capacity, to our surprise. However the 20 minute wait was well worth it. The food, from soup and salad to entrees were all delicious. My meatloaf was a delightful change from the norm. Formed as a small loaf, it was stuffed with crumbled bleu cheese, and wrapped with strips of bacon. The entire loaf was then glazed in a flavorful, dark brown gravy. I’m licking my chops just imagining it. I was glad I’d foregone the side of potatoes, mashed, baked or fried, in favor of additional veggies. The blend of green and wax beans, broccoli, and carrots was probably one of the best I’d tasted in a long time. I’m guessing that’s because the veggies were sautéed in butter. Lordy, my cholesterol! Thank goodness butter hasn’t crossed my lips of late. Tonight was the exception, and well worth “falling off the wagon.”

good friends, good show, good food…hugmamma.

gray skies above, warm hearts below

Our “signature” weather here in the Pacific Northwest never goes out of style. So it’s with little fanfare that we welcome the return of menacing gray skies, upon whose heels arrive the downpour of “angels’ tears.” Our family has learned to take it all in stride.

The dismal weather gives us a chance to burrow under blankets, read a mountain of books, piled high magazines and Wall Street Journals, sup on homemade soups, play endless rounds of Bananagrams, and just recently, cribbage.

Once-in-awhile, my daughter and I settle in to watch old films on DVD, like “Anna and the King of Siam,” starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunn. Totally different from “The King and I,” the colorized version with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, my daughter was enthralled with the more serious story told in the older version. Unlike its successor, it was a drama, not a musical. In it the king does not dance with the teacher, nor does Tuptim stage the story of  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

After Mass yesterday we decided to drive out to Snohomish, where antique stores abound. Enroute we stopped at a favorite haunt, Maltby Cafe. It’s not a restaurant we frequent because of its distance, and because the meals taste like mom’s cooking, which means lo-cal is not a high priority. The few times we’ve driven to partake of this gastronomical feast, there has always been a lineup of hungry customers. But everyone minds their manners. We put our names on a list, and wait patiently, the cafe’s “monster” cinnamon roll making me salivate at the thought of biting into it, melted icing escaping out the corners of my grinning lips.

The Cafe is cozily ensconced in the basement of a building. After 20 minutes or so of eager anticipation,  we were comfortably seated at a table. We took our time looking through the menu, deciding what to eat. My husband is always the first to make a selection. His pick was some gigantic omelet, whose name  escapes me. Meanwhile, my daughter and I read the menu as though it were a novel, poring over each page from top to bottom.

I started with “desserts” on the back of the menu. The “melted caramel sundae” sounded divine, and loaded with calories! Coming to my senses, I chose French toast with marionberries and creme fraiche on the side. With it I ordered a dish of red, fried potatoes, onions, mushrooms and diced ham. Of course, half of it came home in a “doggie bag.” The same was true of my daughter’s meal, homemade Italian sausages with  scrambled eggs, and biscuits with gravy.

While awaiting our main courses, we began with an appetizer. We sliced the long-awaited cinnamon roll 4 ways. We still brought home half of it. As we “oohed and aahed” and hungrily devoured morsels of the heavenly pastry, our eyes wandered around the spacious dining room. Devotees of HGTV, we agreed that the Cafe could easily be transformed into a basement apartment. The long breakfast bar along one side of the room could serve as informal family dining, while the main room could easily house a living space, office space, dining space, and perhaps spare sleeping area. Through a door towards the back would probably be a bedroom. At the very back of the restaurant were a men’s and women’s restroom. And, of course, there was a kitchen through a door behind the breakfast bar. Beams running the length of the ceiling added to the warmth and charm of the room. I think our family qualifies for its own designer show on HGTV. My husband and daughter would probably say “Yeah, right.” They’re not as full of ideas as I am. Or am I… just full of it? Hmmm. Whatever…

Tummies full, we drove on to our final destination. Hunting for bargains in antique shops is a “high” for me. Most dealers, if not all, thrive on finding treasures for unbelievably fabulous prices, in other words, cheap. Once upon a time it was possible, and it may be again, given the current economy. But the difficulty now is that while something may be a bargain, how much of a markup can the market bear? Where nearly 2 decades ago I could double the price of what I paid for an item, I’m no longer able to do so in most cases. So the profit margin has shrunk considerably. Why remain in the business?

All antique dealers are passionate about “old” stuff, their history, their  craftsmanship, and the idea that these items are very much relics of the past. Walking through aisles of artifacts usually stirs up memories of bygone days, before all the modern conveniences like dishwashers, clothes dryers, refrigerators, computers. Instead, my eyes linger over dishracks and colorful dish towels, vintage clothes drying racks or clothes lines that unwind from a green or blue tin box, pie safes that use to store perishable foods from pesky flies, and typewriters, Royals and Underwoods.

With the holidays approaching, I opted to purchase several silver plated serving platters of various shapes and sizes. The prices were reasonable, most $12, a couple $16. They’re not in mint condition, but for the right price, customers will purchase them as beautiful accents for festive celebrations. Shabby chic is in these days, especially at stores like Crate and Barrel. Why pay their exorbitant prices for “knock-offs,” when the real thing can be bought for half the price or less? “Used” means it’s been loved in its former life.

Meandering the back roads under a threatening, gray sky in verdant Washington State, is as special as lazing under the tropical sun, on a white sand beach in Maui. 

found anywhere, blessings…hugmamma.

an uplifting “destination”

I’m certain we all have somewhere that lifts our spirits, whether it’s a physical location, or one that exists within our minds, hearts, or souls. Ever since moving to the Pacific Northwest, my “destination” has always been Molbak’s. When I enter its doors into what is a wonderland of sights and smells, a smile spreads across my lips, and seemingly finds its way down to the very tips of my toes.

Molbak’s is a large nursery where plants, shrubs and trees, notable for their beautiful blooms or lovely foliage, share an equally sizeable, neighboring space with items, including gifts, for the home and garden. Nestled in a cozy corner is a cafe that serves up the most delicious sandwiches, soups, salads and cookies.  Homemade, everything is as delicious as it looks and smells, the tomato basil soup, the smoked turkey with provolone and cranberry-avocado dressing on focaccia, and the caesar with grilled salmon salad, among other yummy menu items. As I sit awaiting the delivery of my order, I always sample dessert, my scrumptious peanut butter cookie. Never as great as my mom’s, it’ll do in a pinch. I savor every morsel. Usually downing it with a glass of water, I sometimes treat myself to a latte, or an Italian raspberry soda blended with cream. Sinful, but oh, so divine.

Overhead sprawls a canopy of limbs from a huge tree growing in the center of the dining area. The branches press up against the nursery’s ceiling. Growing plants and a fountain flank the base of the tree, creating a small, lush forest with “bird of paradise,” anthuriums, and torch gingers, peeking from beneath green fronds, here and there. More plants line the periphery of the cafe, creating a comforting, environment where even a solitary diner can while away the time in peaceful serenity.

Gazing beyond the cafe environs, my senses are aesthetically heightened by the colors, textures, and juxtapositions of real plants and silk arrangements, decorative furnishings and yes, artificial trees festooned with Christmas baubles, ribbons, sprays of berries, crystal twigs, and more, so much more. Leaving behind remnants of my lunch, I wander through the gift shop, admiring everything!

 As an amateur decorator, I’m always aware of store displays, appreciative of those that wow me. Molbak’s displays are like magnets whose “pull” I’m incapable of resisting, especially during the holidays. Every Christmas tree has a theme to its decor, be its focal point a color, like copper, or holiday treats, like cupcakes and wrapped candies, Of course, the surrounding shelves are filled to overflowing with the items displayed upon the trees. Making my way from tree to tree, it’s difficult to decide which is more captivating. Luckily I’m able to refrain from purchasing most of what I see in front of me, because my garage is already overloaded with bins full of Christmas decor. I do not need more, in fact, I need to rid myself of some. The question is always “With what can I part?” Not only regarding holiday stuff, but all my stuff. I’m an antique dealer, you see, and a collector, with all manner of collections.

Of course I couldn’t resist a “small” purchase, artificial evergreen sprays sporting small, red bells scattered intermittently along its length. They’ll hang nicely on the painted, green door nailed to the wall by the front door of our house. Other than its appeal as an architectural piece, the green door is always a handy backdrop for holiday decor, or random items that catch my fancy.

Before exiting Molbak’s, I perused the small, designated area of Halloween items. I love their vintage selection, offerings reminiscent of the Victorian era. Ghoulish, without being garish. My eyes fell upon a black, artificial, 4-foot tree, lit with small, yellowish-white lights. If not for Halloween being within sight, I might have carted that tree home to make it the centerpiece of an elaborate, ghostly scene, in my dining room, or living room. Perhaps if it’s “on sale” after the holiday?

No matter the season, a visit to Molbak’s always warms my heart, and calms my spirit. It’s “comfort food” for my soul.

hoping you’ve “somewhere” that uplifts…hugmamma.

portuguese bean soup, recipe

Here in the Pacific Northwest autumn doesn’t sneak up on us, it merely takes a coffee break letting summer step in for a quick 15 minutes. So while elsewhere around the country citizens were barbecuing for months, we never once took the cover off our grill. And regardless what month of the year, I’m always perusing cookbooks and magazines for cold weather recipes, especially soups and stews. Because some of my relatives are faithful readers I decided to share the following recipe, which is a staple of some Hawaiian families. Having said that, I can’t explain why our family ate such hearty fare in the hot tropics. Never thought of it until now. But there’s really no rhyme or reason to why island locals eat what they eat. If it’s “ono,” (tasty) it’s a no-brainer, we’ll eat it.

The first time I can recall eating Portuguese bean soup was at the monthly “Hui Akoni Hemolele” meeting. As the name implies, it was a club to which native Hawaiians belonged, although there were members of other ethnicities, like Japanese and Portuguese. A few men belonged, but the majority were women. My mom had served as an officer a couple of times. Once a month they would all attend a particular Mass to worship. Immediately afterwards they would gather at the church hall, where everyone would be updated on the club’s current affairs. My brother and I would accompany my mom, waiting impatiently until the breakfast of Portuguese bean soup and Portuguese sweet, or white, bread, with butter, would be served. I can still picture the huge steaming pots, from which the serving women would ladle spoonfuls of the thick, homemade soup, heavily laden with chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. It was heaven on earth to eat food that even God would want served at His table. I exaggerate, but that’s how wonderful it tasted, especially for my brother and I who weren’t use to eating an abundance of red meat in those days. I think we thought ourselves extremely lucky if we ate hamburgers.

When the talking finally ceased, members seconding the motion to adjourn, and the short capes of yellow and red bird feathers removed from around their shoulders, we knew that signaled “Let’s eat!” My brother and I didn’t need to be asked twice. We made a beeline for the food. I think my mom would bring up the rear, because she’d always get sidetracked talking with this person, and that person. But the soup never seemed to run out before everyone got their helping. Sometimes there was enough leftover, so we took a potful home. Lucky, lucky us!

I have several recipes for this soup, this being one of the simplest. I’ve not made Portuguese bean soup since Christmas, so I’m starting slow. At some point I may cook the version that has many more ingredients, including papaya which is a natural meat tenderizer. So as the cold season unfolds, I’ll post one or more recipes for this delicious concoction. If you’re wondering why Hawaiians cooked a food traditional to the Portuguese, the short answer is decades ago they were brought to the islands to serve as “lunas” (bosses) on the pineapple plantations. They oversaw the laborers, first the Chinese, followed by the Japanese and finally, the Filipinos. With the influx of these nationalities, came a melting pot of foods, which became Hawaiian food as we know it today, a smorgasbord of this and that. Still my favorite, I’d easily double my body weight if I were a resident. I’d have a plate lunch of beef teriyaki, spam, portuguese sausage, macaroni salad, and rice, instead of a Big Mac and fries any day of the week. Bring it on…

Meanwhile hope you try this recipe, enjoying its hearty flavors near a blazing fire on a cold, wintry Fall evening, or on your lanai, in the shadow of the setting Hawaiian sun, the gentle ocean breezes lightly caressing your cheeks.

PORTUGUESE BEAN SOUP

  • 2 lb Portuguese sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (if unavailable, try another sausage, like Kielbasa)
  • 1 lb ham hock
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 potatoes, diced
  • 1 small cabbage, chopped
  • 1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
  • 2 cans (15 oz size) red kidney beans, including liquid

Put sausage, ham hock, and onion into a large pot; add water. Cover and cook on low heat for 1 hour. Remove meat from ham hock. Put meat back into soup and add carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and tomato sauce; cover and continue cooking for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in beans, including liquid, and cook a few more minutes, adding more water if necessary. Makes 12 servings.

hmmm, onolicious…hugmamma.